Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age is not for the faint of heart. It is long, turgid and akin to eating chalk. But, if one can get past that, it’s understandable why so many think it is one of the most important books of a generation. After all, the Templeton Prize is not given out to just anyone. It would do Taylor’s book an injustice to do anything other than to highlight one or two of the thoughts I had while reading it. Deep analysis and dialogue with the book needs to be done by someone much smarter than I.
Many religious conservatives place the blame of a secularized society squarely at the feet of science and have declared war on science because of it. Taylor argues against this notion and for that I’m grateful. I’ve always thought the tension between science and religion was more fiction than anything. Rodney Stark in For The Glory of God writes that science does, in fact, owe its birth and current life to Christianity. Only Christianity offers an ordered and stable world, which allowed and allows for science to exist. I like to think that science answers the ‘how’ questions and religion answers the ‘why’ questions. We cannot lay the blame of a secularized society at the feet of science. Christians have to look elsewhere, or we’ll miss the correct diagnosis of our culture’s state.
Taylor places the bulk of the blame on our societies desire for freedom, happiness and fulfillment in the current life. Taylor calls this shift an “anthropocentric turn” (264). Society became more concerned with happiness and fulfillment than anything else. In today’s culture this looks like churches teaching that Jesus was a good ‘moral teacher’ who wants people to be happy and comfortable. There’s a lack of church teaching on sacrifice, eternity, trinity, or mystery. An individual’s temporal fulfillment has become the focus.
I think Taylor’s insight is correct. I look around at Western Christianity, and I see his diagnosis everywhere. Churches teach sermons on ‘Finding Your Best Life Now’ or ‘Six Ways to a Happier Life.’ Many Christians believe that the most important thing is to be happy. In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, Christian Smith labels it “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Unfortunately, I don’t have to point to society to see it. I can look at my own life and struggles. It’s my desire for the latest and greatest in everything. It’s focusing on my wants and needs rather than the needs of others. It’s forgetting that I am not the center of the world.
But is there hope? Are we as a society doomed? Taylor seems to think that hope exists in the ideas of transcendence and mystery. He writes. “. . . the sense that there is something more presses in. Great numbers of people feel it; in moments of reflection about their life; in moments of relaxation in nature; in moments of bereavement and loss; and quite wildly and unpredictably. Our age is very far from settling in to a comfortable unbelief. Although many individuals do so, and more still seem to on the outside, the unrest continues to surface. Could it ever be otherwise?” (727) I pray that the ‘unrest’ would grow and grow, and we would realize that our soul doesn’t find rest in our own happiness or possessions but in only in God who sacrificed his own body for those he loved.
My Question: How can churches foster and cultivate this ‘unrest’ in the malaise of the modern era?